In 2011, I bought a popup camper that needed some work.
Well, let me start over.
More than a few years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to make some memories for my kids by taking them camping.
We did the tent camping thing.
It was fun for them. They loved it.
For my wife and I, well…it was work.
Tent. Tarp. Stove. Table. Chairs. Sleeping bags.
Cook. Clean. Laundry.
It was just like home, only harder. ‘Cause you’re in the “wilderness” and all.
So back to the start of this post.
In 2011, I bought a popup camper that needed some work.
I could save some serious scratch by taking someone else’s discarded project or eyesore and make it our own.
Enter the Viking.
A 2000 Viking popup camper. It was on Craigslist for cheap.
“Just a little water damage,” it read.
It had good bones. It was structurally sound, and the canvas was good (although stained from the water leak.)
I negotiated and took it home for less than I was willing to pay.
Here’s the day I brought it home.
I cranked up the roof to inspect it closer and…
Well it looked worse than it was.
It was at this point that I had to figure out how to build a roof. I looked through online forums and formulated a game plan. Bought parts and supplies.
And then realized this was a bigger project than I expected.
I was going to make this post a “Hey I’m done!”-kind of post. But with a big project, or lengthy project, you need to do certain things for success.
So now this is a “here’s-what-I-do-to-get-through-my-projects” –kind of post.
Guiding Principles for your DIY project
Here are some basic principles that I can apply to any project:
Take it Apart
Don’t be afraid to DIY. Take it apart. Look, taking stuff apart is fun, you see how well (or bad) it is constructed, and most of the time you don’t have to worry since whatever you are working on is broke or sucked to begin with, so if you can’t put it back together then, no loss.
Well, maybe a loss.
Okay, yes there could be a loss, but pretty much anything can be fixed. Just take it apart.
So you took it apart, right? How does it go back together? Was that thing facing up or down? Did this bolt have a lock washer? What’s the name of the fifth studio album by REM?
When you take it apart, snap some pictures so you know how to put it together. And put the parts in a baggie. Label the baggie. Love the baggie. That way four years from now, when you finally start assembling the camper, you know that the thing goes this way and it has a lock washer ‘cause you pulled it out of a baggie.
I used Photoshop Elements organizer to catalog all my photos for projects. I’m not selling you here, but I tagged each photo with keywords so I could reference in the future. You’ll come up with a system. Just have photos. And baggies.
List making will help you get there. What do I have to do? What parts do I need? Where did I put those parts I bought? What’s for dinner?
In my “I Live for the Projects” post, I mentioned restoring an old truck. I have so many parts for that truck, I had to come up with a spreadsheet list to catalog them as to the type of part (engine, interior, chassis, etc), the condition of the part (new, worn, needs restoring, etc) and where I am storing the part (on this- or that-shelf, in bin #6, etc).
You’ll find that making lists will save time, whether it’s what you need to buy or that final assembly list of “to-dos.”
Plan for Slop
Oh…look. They built this using staples and no glue. Or…they just mudded over this outlet when drywalling. Or…they happened to forget to insulate this whole wall.
When I bought my house, I planned for 10% slop—questionable workmanship when repairing crap in my house. Most of it performed by unhandymen (or unhandywomen) over the years. So get ready to pay 10% more. Add 10% time to your schedule, etc.
Well, nah, not really. Jack that up to 25% and you have a realistic number.
“Oh, I’ll just need 16 stainless screws for that vent panel.”
No you won’t.
You’ll somehow need 28. So you’ll huck it back up to Lowe’s or wherever to buy another package of ¾” stainless pan head screws. When you get home, you’ll realize you need them in 1” and 1 ¼” too. And you forgot to buy a new fetzer valve or widget bearings or something-or-other, and make another trip. So buy extra. Return what you don’t use, or save it for the next project. And make lists, remember?
So what do you do to get through a project? Comment, as I’d like to know.
And, as for the camper, here’s the shot of it finished:
I’ll do a wrap up post of that soon!
Wow, miracle maker comes to mind looking at the before and after photos. Now the big question is how much easier was the workload camping in the pop-up vs tent?
MJ, the popup proved to be much easier—setup and takedown was a breeze. And having things like an integrated stove, sink with running water, etc. made it easier to spend some time with the kids instead of camp duties. Thanks for the comment!
The thing you will ALWAYS tell yourself when you take on a DIY project: It is going to get worse, sometimes a LOT worse, before it gets better! <3
Great post. and nice work with the camper!
Thanks Kim, you are so right. I probably could have added a bit about persistance during your project!
Nice post to encourage DIY. I have a similar project and have a couple of questions.
1. Do you have any pictures of the roof framing?
2. What material covers the exterior roof?
I purchased ours in 2017. It has a dry interior but the roof is sagging after 23 years with an AC on roof. Also the door side of pop up roof edge is rotted away in a portion. I need to rebuild the roof!
Thank you for any help.
Kenneth, I may have a few pictures I can share. I’ll have to dig a bit. The roof framing consisted of some rafters made of poplar, 3/4″ ply sides and then I did make a metal support for the roof a/c using 1″ square tube. I skinned the whole thing using really thin plywood, like what’s used for interior door skins (and maybe underlayment), and then put two layers of fiberglass mesh cloth over that. I used polyester fiberglass resin instead of the more expensive epoxy. Then I painted the whole thing with rustoleum using a spray gun. I did add a general enamel hardener to the rustoleum for longevity. I’ll find some more photos and reply here.
How’s it going? Checking in to see if you found some pictures. Spring weather should be coming and I’m planning to either only replace the side or do a full new roof. Would you happen to know where I could find instructions or videos on using making the fiberglass roof?
I found some. In fact, I’m writing a post about it in more detail right now. Sorry I’m so late replying. That’s a longer story. Perhaps you’ve already did your roof, camped and are all set. Thanks for checking us out.
What paint did you use?
I need to sew some ripped seams, any recommendations?
Also any good tips on ripped canvas?
Hi Lynn, I used Rustoleum off the shelf from just about any hardware store or box store. It took a whole quart. I did get some Valspar enamel hardener. It made it more durable, a little more glossy, and actually dried a little faster. I actually rolled it on using a small foam roller. Its been maybe 3 years, and has held up great. I do keep a cover on it while storing. While I didn’t have any ripped seams, I’d use a bonded polyester thread #69 with UV protection and an upholstery needle to take care of ripped seams and just do it by hand if it’s a small area. For a larger area, I’d probably pull the canvas and run it through my mini-industrial machine. If you have a tear, I might try getting some cotton duck cloth or waterproof ballistic nylon to create a reinforcing patch and hand sew it as well. I learned to bring a roll of clear gorilla tape when I go camping: we had a tent rip from a falling branch one night and I was able to use the gorilla tape for a temp patch that held up great. No I keep a roll in the popup camper just in case.
Looks incredible, great job!! We bought a 1992 recently. Good bones too and just needs some TLC. Working on it slowly. Thanks for the inspiration. Thanks for sharing your story!